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Tipsheet

Utah Dems. Will Support Independent Evan McMullin to Unseat Sen. Mike Lee Rather Than a Candidate of Their Own

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

On Saturday, the Utah Democrats made the noteworthy decision to not put up a candidate to challenge Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican who is running for re-election. Instead, they are uniting behind Evan McMullin, who is running as an Independent. Sen. Lee "overwhelmingly" won the endorsement of the Utah GOP, though he still goes to a primary on June 28. 

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Local reporter Ben Winslow of Fox 13 shared the news over Twitter while covering the Utah GOP convention.

Winslow also tweeted coverage of his from Tuesday about such a strategy:

Mayor [Jenny] Wilson, who ran for U.S. Senate herself against Mitt Romney in 2018, argued that Democrats have a very difficult time winning a statewide race. That's why she is urging delegates and Democrats across Utah to get behind independent U.S. Senate candidate Evan McMullin. The mayor, who is arguably one of Utah's most powerful elected Democrats, said McMullin might vote with Republicans some of the time, but she feels he would be more responsive to Democrats than Sen. Lee is now.

"I'm playing to win and I think Evan McMullin has a chance of beating Mike Lee," she said. "That’s the reason for a rather unconventional move for a Democrat to support an independent." 

Mayor Wilson is among a number of high-profile Democrats who have crossed over to lend their support to McMullin. Recently, Reps. Suzanne Harrison, D-Draper, and Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy, also endorsed the independent candidate. McAdams, the last Democrat to hold a federal office in Utah, has been actively campaigning and fundraising for McMullin. The United Utah Party, which bills itself as a centrist alternative to Republicans and Democrats, voted overwhelmingly to endorse McMullin at its convention last weekend.

McMullin said he supports the idea of Democratic party delegates not advancing a candidate because he is building a bipartisan coalition.

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When it comes to national coverage, The Atlantic's McKay Coppins had shared his piece from last November dramatically titled "Inside the Red-State Plot to Take Down a Top Trump Ally," when tweeting about the news.

On that Democratic strategy, Coppins' piece mentioned:

For McMullin to have any shot as an independent, Utah Democrats would have to coalesce behind him and decline to put forward a nominee of their own. While some prospective candidates have already emerged, Utah’s unique convention system could allow the party’s delegates to choose not to nominate anyone. McMullin, who has been laboring behind the scenes to win the support of the state Democratic Party, told me he still has work to do in building the “cross-party coalition” he envisions. But the effort got a big boost this week when Ben McAdams, a former congressman and one of Utah’s most prominent Democrats, endorsed McMullin and urged the party to support him. 

“What I know is that a Democrat is not going to win the U.S. Senate race [in Utah] in 2022,” McAdams told me. “I also know that I’m not going to support every position that Evan takes. But I think it’s a critical time in our country, our politics are severely broken, and what have we got to lose by trying something new?”

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The news was welcomed by GOP strategist Matt Whitlock over Twitter with his tweets and retweets. He has worked for prominent Utah lawmakers, including former Sen. Orrin Hatch, who passed away on Saturday.

Utah is a pretty bright red state. Cook Political Report and Inside Elections rate this race as "Solid Republican," while Sabato's Crystal Ball rates it as "Safe Republican."

When running for president as an Independent in 2016, McMullin received 21.5 percent of the vote, coming in third behind Donald Trump's 45.5 percent and Hillary Clinton's 27.5 percent. Though it's noteworthy that Trump only won Utah with a plurality in 2016, he went on to win the state in 2020 with 58.1 percent of the vote. 

Coppins' coverage also mentioned how Sen. Lee had gone from not supporting Trump during his 2016 presidential run to becoming a close ally in 2020. 

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